Hillclimbers, a special “breed”

January 26, 2019

It takes a special “breed” of snowmobiler to compete at a MASTERS Racing Circuit Snowmobile Hillclimb. One who accepts the chance that if he doesn’t make it to the top of Whealkate, one of two things could happen.

The best case scenario is that the hillclimber simply buries his sled in the deep snow and gets help from the “hill jockey” volunteers, consisting of the brothers of MTU’s Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity.

The “other” scenario is that the sled will come down the hill. Hopefully right side up, and not barrel-rolling down the hill.

“Over the many years we (MASTERS) have been sanctioning snowmobile hillclimbs, it still amazes me as to how good of an attitude the hillclimbers that don’t make the hill have,” commented MASTERS Official, Jeremy Schmidt. “They don’t grump and moan, but ask when the next hillclimb will be.”

Unlike many forms of snowmobile racing, hillclimb snowmobiles do not play as important of a role as to whether one will win his class or not. This is not to say that the sleds are not important, as the four snowmobile manufacturers each have focused on “Mountain Sleds.”  This manufacturer competition gets very local amongst the Western U.P. snowmobile dealers.

However, it is driver skill and a pinch of “luck” that plays an important role as to who will make it through the timing chute at the top of the hill. The hillclimber has to get around the gates without hitting a gate, and they have to make it through the holes that other hillclimbers made. Holes that kept the snowmobile from rolling down the hill.

Once again this year the fraternity brothers of Sigma Tau Gamma will be the “hill jockeys.”  They will be staged throughout the hill to help a snowmobiler who gets stuck. Every hillclimber that does not make it to the top would rather get the hill jockeys’ help than see their sled go back down the hill. Sometimes the snowmobiles don’t go down the hill the way the sled owner wants.

It will be at the February 2, 2019, Triest Forest Products-Vollwerth’s Meats Mid America Championship Hillclimb (MACH) at Whealkate Bluff in South Range, Michigan, that the field which will include the very best hillclimbers in the long history of our circuit will compete. This includes Greenland’s Al Turin, Atlantic Mine’s Mike Fraki, the circuit’s all-time highest cash award recipient, Travis Kaurala of Nissula, Hubbell’s Jimmy Marietta, and  Montreal (WI) Jordan Wolfe.

Wolfe has been one of the top snow-crossers in the Midwest for years and is a Michigan Tech University Engineering student. Kaurala is the current point leader in the prestigious TOP GUN class in Terra-X, as he swept the competition at the MASTERS debut Terra-X race in Ontonagon, Michigan, on January 12.  Kaurala is in a close race to be the TOP GUN Champion for 2019 with Brillion, Wisconsin’s, Bob Berghuis, and Wolfe who will also be competing at the MACH.

It is not known at the time of this release whether MASTERS Hall of Fame member, Menomonee’s Layne Stank will compete. No one has qualified to the World Championship Hillclimb in Jackson, Wyoming, as many times as Stank. The rumor mill also has that Bessemer’s Matt Tingstad may enter the MACH. If they decide to compete, this will make the MACH the best competition the MASTERS has ever had in its 25+ year completion.

Another rumor is a Rocky Mountain Snowmobile Association Pro Hillclimber from the Western US will make the trip to South Range to compete.

Making a return to hillclimb competition is the ONLY MASTERS racer that has competed in every form of snowmobile competition that the circuit has run. That is Negaunee’s Shay Thompson.

“My son is going to run the 120’s for the kids, so I thought I would also come and compete,” Thompson commented.

While those with experience are the hillclimbers many expect to do well, every year it is new racers that have come out of the woodwork and done well. “Josh Bramble did really good last year in his first race and he has a new sled to compete this year.  Same with Ray Van Alstine,” commented Schmidt.

The future of MASTERS Hillclimb racers is good when one looks at the young racers that did well last year and will be competing this year. This includes Wyatt McIntyre of Greenland and Kaiden Kaurala of Nisula.

Hillclimbers will come from all over the Midwest. This includes Bob Berghuis of Brillion, Wisconsin, along with Cory Burrows from the southern part of the Lower Peninsula. Berghuis was one of the top racers in the circuit’s Terra-X race in Ontonagon a few weeks ago. Burrows also competes in the Rocky Mountain Snowmobile Hillclimb Association.

“With the recent ‘blizzard’ South Range has received, the amount of snow on the hill is going to make this year’s competition challenging for the racers and very exciting for the fans,” commented Sandy Schulz, MASTERS Officer.

In addition to the Pro Stock, Pro Mod, and Junior Divisions, the MASTERS Hillclimbs at Whealkate will also have children between the ages of 5 and 12 compete in the 120 class, and the Snow Bikes have been invited to compete and is on the MASTERS Hillclimb registration form.

Final registration to compete is on Friday Night, Feb 1, from 6 to 8 p.m. ET, at the former Big Bucks Bingo Hall, next to the Ojibwa Casino in Baraga. The circuit has never allowed registration the day of the race.

Competition will begin at 10:00 a.m. ET.  Admission is $10.00, and there is a limited amount of reserved parking (view the hillclimb from your vehicle) available and is $20.00. General parking is $5.00. Gates will open at 8:00 a.m. Again, there is only a limited amount of reserved parking available so fans are encouraged to get to the hill early.


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